The State of Food and Agriculture

Post date Thursday, 20 April, 2017 - 11:29

Following last year’s historic Paris Agreement and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development – marking a path towards a more sustainable future – 2016 is about putting commitments into action. The rapid change in the world’s climate is translating into more extreme and frequent weather events, heat waves, droughts and sea-level rise. The impacts of climate change on agriculture and the implications for food security are already alarming – they are the subjects of this report. A major finding is that there is an urgent need to support smallholders in adapting to climate change. Farmers, pastoralists, fisherfolk and community foresters depend on activities that are intimately and inextricably linked to climate – and these groups are also the most vulnerable to climate change. They will require far greater access to technologies, markets, information and credit for investment to adjust their production systems and practices to climate change. Unless action is taken now to make agriculture more sustainable, productive and resilient, climate change impacts will seriously compromise food production in countries and regions that are already highly food-insecure. These impacts will jeopardize progress towards the key Sustainable Development Goals of ending hunger and poverty by 2030; beyond 2030, their increasingly negative impacts on agriculture will be widespread. Through its impacts on agriculture, livelihoods and infrastructure, climate change threatens all dimensions of food security. It will expose both urban and rural poor to higher and more volatile food prices. It will also affect food availability by reducing the productivity of crops, livestock and fisheries, and hinder access to food by disrupting the livelihoods of millions of rural people who depend on agriculture for their incomes. Hunger, poverty and climate change need to be tackled together. This is, not least, a moral imperative as those who are now suffering most have contributed least to the changing climate. The report describes ways of adapting smallholder production to climate change and making the livelihoods of rural populations more resilient. Diversification and better integration of food production systems into complex ecological processes create synergies with the natural habitat instead of depleting natural resources. Agroecology and sustainable intensification are examples of approaches that improve yields and build resilience through practices such as green manuring, nitrogen-fixing cover crops and sustainable soil management, and integration with agroforestry and animal production. More resilient agriculture sectors and intelligent investments into smallholder farmers can deliver transformative change, and enhance the prospects and incomes of the world’s poorest while buffering them against the impacts of climate change. This report shows how the benefits of adaptation outweigh the costs of inaction by very wide margins. For this transformation towards sustainable and more equitable agriculture, access to adequate extension advice and markets must improve, while insecurity of tenure, high transaction costs, and lower resource endowments, especially among rural women, are barriers that will need to be overcome. Livelihood diversification can also help rural households manage climate risks by combining on-farm activities with seasonal work, in agriculture and in other sectors. In all cases, social protection programmes will need to play an important role – in helping smallholders better manage risk, reducing vulnerability to food price volatility, and enhancing the employment prospects of rural people who leave the land. In order to keep the increase in global temperature below the crucial ceiling of 2 °C, emissions will have to be reduced by as much as 70 percent by 2050. Keeping climate change within manageable levels can only be achieved with the contribution of the agriculture sectors. They now account for at least one-fifth of total emissions, mainly from the conversion of forests to farmland as well as from livestock and crop production. The challenge is to reduce those emissions while meeting unprecedented demand for food. The agriculture sectors can substantially contribute to balancing the global carbon cycle. Similarly, in the forestry sector, avoiding deforestation, increasing the area under forest, and adopting sustained-yield management in timber production can bind large amounts of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2 ). Soils are pivotal in regulating emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gases. Appropriate land use and soil management lead to improved soil quality and fertility and can help mitigate the rise of atmospheric CO2. It is essential that national commitments – the country pledges that form the basis of the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change – turn into action. The Conference of the Parties that will be held in November 2016 in Morocco will have a clear focus on implementation in the agriculture sectors. This report identifies strategies, financing opportunities and data and information needs, and describes transformative policies and institutions that can overcome barriers to implementation. As countries revise and, hopefully, ramp up their national plans, success in implementing their commitments – particularly in the agriculture sectors – will be vital to creating a virtuous circle of higher ambition. Climate change is a cornerstone of the work undertaken by FAO. To assist its Members, we have invested in areas that promote food security hand in hand with climate change adaptation and mitigation. FAO is helping to reorient food and agricultural systems in countries most exposed to climate risks, with a clear focus on supporting smallholder farmers. FAO works in all its areas of expertise, pursuing new models of sustainable, inclusive agriculture. Through the Global Soil Partnership, FAO promotes investment to minimize soil degradation and restore productivity in regions where people are most vulnerable, thus stabilizing global stores of soil organic matter. We participate in the Global Agenda for Sustainable Livestock, and have launched a programme to reduce enteric emissions of methane from ruminants using measures suited to local farming systems. In the fisheries sector, our Blue Growth Initiative is integrating fisheries and sustainable environmental management, while a joint programme with the European Union aims at protecting carbon-rich forests. We provide guidance on including genetic diversity in national climate change adaptation planning, and have joined forces with the United Nations Development Programme to support countries as they integrate agriculture in adaptation plans and budgeting processes. FAO also helps link developing countries to sources of climate financing. The international community needs to address climate change today, enabling agriculture, forestry and fisheries to adopt climate-friendly practices. This will determine whether humanity succeeds in eradicating hunger and poverty by 2030 and producing food for all. “Business as usual” is not an option. Agriculture has always been the interface between natural resources and human activity. Today it holds the key to solving the two greatest challenges facing humanity: eradicating poverty, and maintaining the stable climatic corridor in which civilization can thrive.

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